Guest Blogger, Matt Miller: Sharing Blessings! Why Do I Volunteer?

 

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I received an email from my cousin Matt this morning.  He had written a thoughtful piece about volunteering and asked if I might like to share it here.  I told him I would be more than happy to post it.  While we should always be cognizant of what we do in our daily lives to help others, sometimes we need reminders.  Thanks Matt for sharing your story of what volunteering means to you.

 

Sharing Blessings!  Why Do I Volunteer?

I have been blessed to be in a position to be able to volunteer in most of my son’s activities. Additionally my wife has also to volunteer as well. I say blessed because I know in today’s world that not everyone’s situation allows for the level of volunteering that we are able to. Both my wife and I have a calling to work with youth, having earned music education degrees but both being in vocations where we do not have direct youth interaction we have chosen to focus our “free” time in our son’s activities. This is not to say that we are perfect parents, I assure you that we will always have room for improvement. Nor are we alone in this endeavor, we have made friends with other outstanding volunteers in the organizations. We have discussed why we do this many times and the main theme that we bring up is to make a difference in a child’s life, our child and others.

With this goal in mind we have tackled Boy Scouts and competitive marching band parent organizations. We have looked at what skills and experiences that we have to offer and have been able to plug into positions for each group. I could not be more satisfied and proud of the impact that we have been able to make. I say this not to boast, but to share the gem situations that I have experienced.

In Scouts I have served as a committee member, but my focus has been on sitting and preparing the boys for Boards of Review that they have at the completion of each rank including Eagle rank, Scouting’s highest youth achievement. I have been able to sit on countless Tenderfoot, 1st Class, 2nd Class, and Life rank boards with our Troop of 60 or so boys. It is a privilege to see each boy develop though each rank in maturity and experience. As well I have sat as a troop representative on over 15 Eagle Board of Reviews, many of which I was able to provide some coaching and sample questions for each boy to prepare. The boys have done outstanding and have represented our Troop well. The Council representatives recognize that we run a well rounded program for our youth. The involvement has also allowed the boys to participate in many adventure actives such are canoeing, hiking, repelling, practicing firearms and archery, as well as skills through merit badges. A wonderful program!

Concurrently my son’s competitive marching band, the Renegade Regiment of the Union High School marching band program, is our other main activity. While Angela and I’s musical gifts were not in concert or marching band, we are both very familiar with the music aspect. There are as many as 30 main volunteers in leadership roles as well as countless other parents, grand parents or guardians that help the logistics, fundraising, dressing and feeding of the band students allowing the schools music directors and staff the ability to focus almost solely on the teaching of music and marching of the students. We have been chaperones on multiple trips as well as serving on the Union Band Parents Club board of directors, Angela as a Uniform Director (or Uniform Queen as we call her) and myself as Concessions Director and Treasurer. Angela and another Scout mom are co Uniform Directors for the last two marching seasons. Both myself and other director’s husband (the Scout Master from our Troop) make up the main uniform crew with our wives. We fit the over 300 band students in marching bibs, jackets and hats called shakos for marching and then Tuxes and dress blouses / pants for concerts. We travel with the students for each competition: fixing damaged items, replacing what can not be fixed, and having borrow items for lost of missing pieces. As part of the Concessions team, I serve as one of the running directors of our football stadium concessions stands and as the bookkeeper for our team. We staff our stands with parents and students as a fundraising element to pay for and directly apply to the individual student’s marching fees. The overall stand net profits go toward the general fund to help reduce the costs for all the band students.

Through our interactions we have met other like minded parents who have been able to prioritize volunteering as an important aspect of giving as a part of the Union Band Parents Club. This has not been lost on the students. They are very grateful, polite and for the most part well behaved. As the band competes at an elite level of competition, we have recently returned from the National competition in Indianapolis, IN (placed 16th in the nation!!!). We stayed at a boutique hotel in downtown Indianapolis, the Alexander. Our band students carried themselves with class. We received a complementary email from the marketing director of the hotel after our visit, advising that they have rarely had adult visiting groups be as polite and courteous as out students and that they would be happy to host our group in the future.

The students are very thankful for all that our parent group is able to provide for them. The reward is to hear the stories from the students. A parent of one student with a knee injury that happened during the season complimented on of the student leaders for his willingness to go out of his way to carry the injured students bags and some times the student herself to get from place to place. Another of our students was able to speak at a local Rotary Club in a Four Way Speech contest speaking to the power of words. These are the high points. We have the opportunity of seeing our students with adversity make the best of their situation. One student works and pays her own marching fee which is usually well over $2000 yearly. That student maturely describes the hardships she faces at home with a single parent who is disabled, an elderly grandparent and a younger sibling that she cares for all while going to school and participating in school activities. The does not complain about her circumstances, but is thankful for the opportunity to work her own way to pay for her involvement in the program. Another student had a out of state grand parent come to the nationals competition, the grand parent also brought the student’s birth parent who had not seen the student in over 10 years. The student was at odds on how to process seeing the absent parent, but communicated the blessing of being a part a group that had caring and willing volunteers to be role models. These are the moments that glisten the eyes and melt the heart.

Upon our return home from the nationals competition we learned as a band family that a member of another competing band lost a band member, parent and grand parent in a traffic accident while in route home after the finals of the competition. As parents and spectators we had shared the stands with the parents and volunteers of the other band though out the competition’s extended weekend. Our band students had been social and had interacted with many bands including this band. The Castle Marching band had made it to finals competition for the first time and one of the soloists was the young lady who’s life was tragically cut short on the ride home from a mountain top experience. Our band family’s hearts were broken with the news: directors, students and parents alike; our Band Family was feeling the loss of another Band Family. Many of our students were touched and responded by posting pictures of themselves wearing the colors of the mourning band to show support. Posting these pictures and support to #WeAreCastle and #SingForSophie in social media. They seemed to understand the idea of community that exists outside of his or her direct family and school. These are the moments that make my heart and soul sing. The title of the marching show this year was Shadow Land, in reference to our show I commented on how you have to be the light in order to create the shadows. This inspired one of band parent leaders to create the hastag #BeTheLightThatCastsABeatifulShadow.

This is the reason that I volunteer, not for personal gain or recognition. The empowerment of our future leaders, the young people of today through example and opportunity to use the skills and talents they have. Instilling compassion and a dedication to the support they received and the recognition of other’s hard work that comprised that support. Lastly for them to show the same levels of compassion and support to others.

As we face times of change and uncertainty in the future, I know that by volunteering I am positively contributing to today’s youth with results in better prepared future leaders with hearts for compassion and dedication to work for self and others. Again I say that I am blessed for my situation and recognize how grateful I am to be able to spend my time as I am able. The benefits and rewards while intangible are the greatest that one can receive. While you spend time being thankful during this season, be thankful for those who volunteered for you. Be the Light that casts a beautiful shadow.

Thanks and Blessings!

Matt Miller

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A few years ago, outside the stage door of a Broadway theater, I found myself herded into a cattle holding pen along with about 200 other people.  My friends Michael and Kim and I were waiting for Broadway legend Kristin Chenoweth to come out and greet us after a performance of the show she was starring in at the time, Promises, Promises.  And yes, this is the same Michael who often thoughtfully, eloquently, guest blogs here.

Michael and Kristin Chenoweth grew up in the same town and attended the same high school.  They walked the same halls, performed on the same stages, learned from the same teachers.  In fact, one such teacher, whom Michael is still close to, was the reason we were ushered into the front of the holding pen. There had been the possibility that we would get to go backstage, but it didn’t pan out.

It’s a humbling experience to be packed with hundreds of other people like that. There were security people yelling at us about where to stand, what to do. “No flash photography!”
To her credit, Kristin was gracious when she came out. Michael teased her by calling her Kristie Dawn, the name she went by when she was just a young Oklahoma girl with a big voice and a dream. She good-naturedly dead-panned, “Don’t call me that.” She and Michael talked Broken Arrow for a few moments, then she signed our programs, said hi to a few others and then climbed into a waiting SUV and was whisked away.

And I was both exhilarated and depressed by the experience. It made me us feel both special and insignificant. But while she and Michael stood talking, I felt an odd resentment boiling beneath the surface. I thought, Kristie Dawn, you really don’t know who you are talking to. Talk about a legend.

I met Michael several years ago when we did Party together. He was, even then, an available, funny, skilled actor. And through the years, I’ve been lucky to see him in many roles and he continues to expand himself. The last thing I saw him in was a production of Greater Tuna where he expertly and seemingly effortlessly became 20 different characters, 20 inhabited lives. And if Michael were only an actor, that would be enough to make him the kind of star around which the world orbits. (Full confession, I’m no Isaac Asimov.) But, I think the thing that makes Michael truly a legend is that he’s the best friend anyone could ever have. I know a lot of people, but I don’t think I know anyone as beloved as Michael Patrick Gaffney. And if you’re reading this and you know him, you know what I’m talking about. He remembers the details of your life, he reminds you of memories that you’ve shared, he does not pontificate, but always makes you feel he’s rooting for you. And I can never see Lucille Ball or peanut butter or a lady bug without thinking of him.

I don’t know if MPG will ever be as famous or as rich as the little one (his name for her, not mine.) If we lived in a world that made sense, he’d have Tonys and Emmys and 912,398 Twitter followers, too. But I actually think, in many ways, Michael’s life is richer than, well, richer than most. He is loved and he knows how much he is loved. And we’re just lucky to have him in our lives. Because I knew him, because I know him, I have been changed for good.

Guest Blogger, Michael Patrick Gaffney: Old Wallpaper

wallpaper 2My good friend Michael has written another guest blog, the first guest blog of 2014!  Partly because my parents have lived in the same, relatively unchanged, ranch style house since 1980, I can relate to this story.  And yet, since this is a story about constants and changes and our relationship to those things, I am sure everyone can relate.  

Old Wallpaper

In 1973 my dad moved us from Queens, New York to Broken Arrow, Oklahoma.  Needless to say it was a bit of a culture shock for the whole family.  No one could understand what we were saying with our thick, New York accents and every time the lady at the Piggly Wiggly store said, “Ya’ll come back now, ya hear”, we would literally come back to the counter wondering what we had done wrong.  It was like living on the planet, Mars.  But one of the great things about our move was that we got to watch our house being built.   The first time my dad took us to our lot, all that was there was the cement foundation.  Once a week the whole family would pile into the new Ford, Galaxy station wagon and check out the progress of our house.  Soon there were studs up, then walls, then brinks and stone, and then the roof.

When it was finally finished it was the quintessential 1970’s ranch house, with avocado green, shag carpeting, burnt orange appliances in the kitchen, a wagon wheel light figure in the living room and lots and lots of loud wallpaper throughout. 

Flash forward 40 years!  My mother and father still live in that same house, minus the green, shag carpet, etc.  When I was visiting last summer they mentioned that they might finally take down the old, original wallpaper in the half bathroom off the garage.  “Oh, no don’t!  That’s all that’s left of the original design and it’s so cute”, I pleaded.   I made sure to take a picture of the bathroom before I left in case they followed through with their foolish plan.

This morning on the phone, my mother casually mentioned that they finally remodeled the half bath off the garage.  She also mentioned that they were thinking of finally selling the house and moving to a smaller place.  A four bedroom house was just too much trouble for a couple in their late seventies.  It was time.

 It was just old and worn wallpaper, hanging in the half bath off the garage. It was dated and silly and dingy so it was time for it to be torn down and replaced with a fresh coat of beige paint.  Preparing the house for the next family to take over perhaps.  What’s the big deal?

But that wallpaper was my youth, my memories and a link to the past.  When I would visit my childhood home, little by little things would change but I could always go into that half bath off the garage and I was immediately  pulled back into the 1970’s and my childhood.  

As a kid I probably spent too much time in that bathroom, sitting there trying to figure out the story of those characters on that red and white, kitschy wallpaper. There was the woman sitting at her vanity painting her fingernails.  The bald man drying himself off with the checkered towel.   The woman with the night cap on, checking her wrinkles in the mirror.  The man in his bathrobe combing his hair.  The mom brushing her little girl’s hair while she plays with her toy, with the cat watching closely.  The naughty poodle pulling the towel off the rack.  What did it all mean?  Pondering it now I guess it was just a simple story about a family living together and sharing a space on a daily basis.  It could have been any family I suppose, but I guess to me it was my family that I imagined on that wall.   I think that is why I find it so hard to let go of it completely.   So this afternoon I blew up the picture I had taken last summer, put it in a frame and mailed it off to my folks.  I want it to be a reminder I guess…or a monument really, to that young family from Queens, New York starting off their new life and adventure together on the planet, Mars.

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Starring Oklahoma

2483653_GA couple days ago, I went with my friend Vinod to see a screening of a film called August: Osage County that is coming out in a few weeks.  It’s an adaptation of Tracy Letts’ Tony winning play starring a who’s who of great actors including Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Margo Martindale, Sam Shepard, Ewan McGregor, Julianne Nicholson, Juliette Lewis, Chris Cooper, and more.  There are a lot of heart-wrenching performances, but the one thing that stuck with me the most, the one thing I’ve continued to ponder since seeing the movie is the performance, or presence of the state where the movie is set and filmed, Oklahoma.

There is a pervasive heat that you feel the entire time you are watching the movie.  That sticky, sweaty, cloying heat is alluded to even in the title of movie.  If you’ve ever spent an August in Osage County or near Osage County, you know what I’m talking about.  The movie was filmed about an hour away from the town in Kansas where I grew up.  In fact, because of my Dad’s illness, I was in Kansas last summer, when they were filming the movie, and it was a particularly hot summer, some of you might even remember.  So, while Meryl and Julia and Margo and Julianne and Juliette were proximating a dysfunctional family dealing with a family crisis in the part of the world I know best, I was with my (probably slightly more functional) family dealing with a family crisis of our own.  

There is a funny scene in the beginning of the movie where Julia Roberts’ character Barbara, who grew up in Oklahoma but lives in Colorado now opines, “Who was the asshole who saw this flat hot nothing and planted his flag?”  And growing up there, it’s a sentiment I thought myself several times.  I used to say that the good thing about growing up in Kansas is that it makes every other place I go beautiful in comparison.  (That’s harsh.)  Later in the scene, I think Barbara gets it right when she says, “This is not the Midwest. All right? Michigan is the Midwest, God knows why. This is the Plains: a state of mind, right, some spiritual affliction, like the Blues.”  

I wept every time the state of Oklahoma flashed on the screen.  Several scenes take place when people are driving down the road or driving through a small Oklahoma town.  Certainly, there was recognition for me when I saw those old-fashioned churches, or once grand country homes that had fallen into disrepair or that sky, wide open, both in day and night.  But it was more than recognition, it was wist.  And it was love.

I was born in Bartlesville, Oklahoma and raised most of my life, just 45 minutes away from there in Independence, Kansas.  I’m proprietary about that part of the world, because it’s still mine.  And watching this film, moments of which were masterpieces, I understood why people stay and why people leave and why they come home again, and also, why, even if you never come back to live, the plains will always be a part of you.erez-12

Woolaroc (Woods, Lakes, Rocks)

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After the excitement of my Dad’s birthday party and the Inge Festival, my parents and I thought it might be fun to visit Woolaroc in Bartlesville, Oklahoma today. Woolaroc, a play on woods, lakes and rocks, is the estate of Phillips 66 founder Frank Phillips. There is a museum, a lodge where they used to live, a petting zoo and grounds with buffalo (and other animals) roaming. Growing up in Independence, every year we visited Woolaroc for a school field trip. Nostalgia addict that I am, I enjoyed revisiting a place that I had not been to in at least 25 years. I’ve posted a few pictures from the day, some are better than others.

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